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At 75, Cougar Gold canned cheese is still a Washington state favorite

Cougar Gold Cheese WSU Creamery
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The Washington State University Creamery is celebrating its 75th anniversary this weekend. The creamery is known for serving up scoops of Apple Cup Crisp to hungry students in Pullman.

But let’s be real: You probably know them for Cougar Gold, a nearly two-pound can of cheddar cheese that is sought-after across the state.

We heard that Seattle chef and restaurateur Tom Douglas has a fridge full of the cheese. Soundside called him and he denied this claim.

But, while on the phone, he did look through his collection of Cougar Gold, which totals seven cans, with vintages going back to 2009.

"It's fun to kind of taste each vintage against each other. And then when I'm having a party, that's what I like to pull out," Douglas said.

The cheese lasts indefinitely in the can, but once open, you have a limited amount of time to eat it.

That’s why, according to Douglas, it’s good for parties.

"It comes out this buttery, bold color, with the sharpness of the cheddar complemented by this like luxurious richness and the texture," said Bethany Jean Clement, a food critic at the Seattle Times and also a fan of Cougar Gold.

Bethany grew up in Seattle and said that Cougar Gold was always held in high esteem.

"I think it's unusual — to say the least — to have essentially a state cheese, sort of like a state bird," she said. "But the pride that people in Washington take in Cougar Gold is just extraordinary. It's got this real cult following."

Bethany said that almost any time she writes something about cheese for the Seattle Times, when she checks the comments on social media for that article, someone will bring up Cougar Gold as the superior alternative.

The history of the canned cheese goes back to a time before plastic.

"Back in the '40s, there was a grant that WSU got that was from the U.S. can company and the army to try to figure out how to package cheese better to get it to the troops better," said John Haugen, the manager of the Washington State University Creamery.

So, Dr. N.S. Golding, the cheese's namesake, added an additional culture to a canned cheese.

"That makes Cougar Gold taste different from regular cheddar," Haugen said. "That adjunct culture basically out-competed anything that was causing problems in the cheese that they tried to put in the can, and it worked."

Haugen noted that steel prices have gone up a lot in the last 75 years, but maintains that, at $33 per can, the cheese is still a good deal.

Listen to Soundside’s full conversation with John Haugen by clicking the play icon at the top of this story.

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